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My Feet Deserve Better

I ran barefoot through the Vischer Ferry Preserve on the south end of Clifton Park today. I would have worn shoes, really, I would have, but I was in a bit of a time crunch and didn't want to waste the time or gas to stop home before running through the preserve. I had no shorts in my car, so as if I didn't look enough like Huckleberry Finn in bare feet, I ran in my blue jeans with the bottoms rolled up to keep them from getting too muddy. Goose droppings peppered the northern canal path. I kept a wary eye on the ground and successfully avoided all land mines as far as I could tell. Several goose families hung out on the path. They generally waddled into the water as I ran by. One brave papa goose stayed on the trail to protect the gaggle by hissing at me. I spoke friendly words to him as I passed by, then got the heck out of there as quick as I could.

I ran to the far end of the preserve and made a u-turn. I took some alternative trails on the return trip. Eventually I arrived at a big huge sand pit that looked like the type of place where a person would pretend they never buried a terrible nuclear hazard. Construction vehicles were parked alongside and inside the sand pit. During an unfortunate footstep, I felt multiple small points poke into my foot. As I lifted my foot again, I could feel the points popping back out of my foot. I stopped and turned around to look at what I had stepped on. It was an old, frayed, rusty wire, with many rigid strands pointing upward out of the sand. I decided I wanted away from this area, but the southern trail was all construction-yardy. I recalled from cross-country skiing during the winter that there was a trail to the north. The only way north beyond the pit was to run through the thick weedy woods (not the snowy flat landscape I remembered). Unpleasant as it was, and longer than I expected, I eventually made it to a trail. Shortly thereafter, I felt a speck of itch on the side of my right foot. I reached down and scratched it, but there was nothing there. Then I felt another itch on my left foot. Then I felt severe tingling all over my feet. For a moment I panicked and thought that accute tetanus was gangrening my feet from stepping on the rusty wire. I slowly recognized the distantly familiar feeling of stinging nettles, and my panic subsided. Nettle stings don't last very long after itching and burning for a few minutes. I quickened my pace. I was running late and I desperately wanted to get home to wash my poor feet. They deserve better than this. I got home, washed and disinfected my feet, had some dinner, and made a quick visit to Urgent Care. The rusty wire was just the poke I needed to remind me to go get a tetanus shot. If anybody should be up-to-date with that particular shot, it's me.

Hudson River Herring

Today I looked into some questions regarding herring in the Hudson River.

Is it legal to catch herring for bait just below the Troy dam?

Yes. Possession of the proper fishing license entitles an angler to collect alewives and blueback herring for personal use in hook-and-line fishing only (sale prohibited) by angling, seine or cast nets. Regulations vary by location. Transportation of herring for use as bait is prohibited except along transportation corridors outlined and mapped in the regulations guide. The area around the Hudson River below the Troy dam is one such corridor.

Is it legal to catch herring for eating? When is open season? What is the limit?

Yes, herring can be caught any time, with no limit in the Hudson River upstream to Troy Dam, and some parts of the Mohawk River, and also in all tributaries from river upstream to first barrier impassable by fish. Anglers must enroll in the Recreational Marine Fishing Registry. Once these species are transported away from the water body, they may not be transported back to any water body for use as bait.

Is it safe to eat herring from the Hudson? What are the recommended restrictions on eating them?

If a person were to eat Hudson River fish at a rate greater than the recommended one meal-per-month, they could expect to eventually end up with twice as much mercury in their system as a person who did not eat these fish. The person would still be well within the limits that the EPA recommends as "safe", although I don't have confidence that "safe" actually means "safe". I conclude that as a grown man, eating a few Hudson River pickled herring should be ok (with some warranted hesitation and disclaimers). Women of childbearing age and children under 15 should avoid them.

Unanswered Questions:

I was surprised to read that the upper Hudson is the worst area to eat fish, and that the lower Hudson contains healthier fish. I expected that the further downstream you get, the worse the water would be because there would be more factories contributing to the pollution, but apparently this is not the case. It makes sense assuming that the largest concentration of pollution is in the sediment at the bottom of the river in the upper Hudson, and the fish in question spend a lot of time in the contaminated areas. However, don't the striped bass spend only a short time on the Hudson while spawning? How are the striped bass on the Upper Hudson getting so badly contaminated if they only spend a small part of their lives on the Hudson? Does the contamination stay with the fish, or does it quickly leave the fish once it leaves the contaminated area? If the contamination quickly leaves the fish, then it would make sense that the fish in the cleaner, southern part of the Hudson are healthier. However, if the fish are permanently affected, then wouldn't they be just as contaminated when they are in the upper Hudson as they are in the lower Hudson? Or even in the ocean for that matter?

Here goes nothing...

References:

* NY Times Article
* Hudson River - Health Advice on Eating Fish You Catch
* 2011-12 NYS Fishing Regulations Guide

Kayaked Normans Kill

4/4/12 - From New Scotland, upstream roughly 4 miles and back. This upper area had enough water that we rarely scraped bottom in this section. Normans Kill gauge was at 3.25'.

4/10/12 - It took maybe 3 hours from Krumkill to Mill Rd. I put my hand on a hairy poison ivy vine near the put-in but luckily never got the itch. The water level was noticeably lower than last week, and we scraped bottom badly for long sections of it. Walking was necessary in some areas. Normans Kill Gauge was at 3'.

Related Links

* USGS Water Level Data for the Normans Kill

Tenandeho WW Derby

The 39th annual Tenandeho White Water Derby was held today in nearby Mechanicville, NY. Canoes, kayaks, and an "anything that floats" category (floating breakfast tables, boats made of duct tape, etc.) competed to race down the Anthony Kill. All of Mechanicville cheered us paddlers and polers on, making for an incredibly fun day. The number of volunteers was staggering, I believe that the entire fire department was there to perform rescue operations as needed. All-around, this event was the best, I hope to be able to be a part of more of them in the future.

Related Links

* Short video of the race
* YNN News Story
* Article and Video from the Saratogian
* Albany Times Union Article with Pictures
* Photographs from the Schenectady Daily Gazette
* An hour-long video of the race from 1983

Dragon Warrior World Map

Google has added a map of the world in none other than Dragon Warrior graphics. This is the best April Fools day present I ever got.

This comes at perfect timing in my own life. It just so happens that I have been working my way through the Dragon Warrior games for the last few months on my Android phone, and am currently in the middle of Dragon Warrior 3. I would totally dance a jig right now, but I don't want to lose all my magic points.

Below Cohoes Falls

Cohoes: I love this place. A romantic setting, perfect for a honeymoon or just a weekend getaway. It's our own local Niagara Falls. Except that in C-Town, we don't set goals, we set fire.

I have been on a kick lately of exploring the Mohawk River just before it empties into the Hudson. The geography is extremely chaotic. Tall cliffs on either side confine the river to it's convoluted path.

Several branches of the river wind around islands and over tall and voluminous waterfalls. The water is surrounded on all sides by man-made constructs such as locks, mills, highways, dams, bridges, and railroads.

Ancient ruins from the industrial age lean and crumble along the shorelines and under the water's surface. Some of the ruins have been beautifully restored like the Lofts Apartments.

The apartments tower over the area's most prominent natural feature, the Cohoes Falls.

But what I really came here to check out is an area of standing waves just below the falls.

The water level today was just over 11'. It looks like it could be a fun place to kayak, and apparently these waves get much more exciting (and eventually dangerous) when the water level is higher.

The following video shows the waves in their standing motion:

A parking lot on the Cohoes side of the river will make for an ideal launch point.

Related Links

* M. Paul Keesler's trip report
* Current USGS Statistics for the area
* A forum discussion on the NE Paddlers Message Board involving this area

Similar Entries

* The nearby Cohoes Wave

Hiked the Santanonis

Today we made our fifth attempt at hiking the three Adirondack high peaks in the Santanoni Range: Couchsachraga, Santanoni Peak, and Panther Peak. Each of our previous unsuccessful attempts have increased the importance of this event on our lives. It has been built up to such a point that if we were to die without completing this goal, the unresolved earthly conflict might well be enough to tether our spirit to the material world forever. We must complete these peaks.

History

The four preceding trips went as follows:

1) I was absent for the first trip, but apparently mud season had a strong impact on the trail to Bradley Pond. After a brutal hike to the lean-to through miles of shoe-stealing mud holes the party spent the night and cut the trip short mucking their way back to the car.

2) Our second attempt was made during what was popularly known in New York State as the weekend of the "Snowicane", February 2010. We were breaking trail through waist-deep snow, travelling at a pace of one mile every two hours. After we reached the main intersection between the peaks, we were unable to find any trails under the snow. We gave up as time started running out after falling in one-too-many neck-deep spruce traps.

3) Nobody counts our third try as a failed attempt, but personally I consider it to be our ultimate fail. After waking up late in a motel in Lake Placid, we drove two hours to the trail-head before we sat down and discussed the fact that we would probably be walking out of the woods at three in the morning, at which point we drove 2 hours *back* to Lake Placid to hike some less-impossible peaks. A wise choice at the time, but had we made the choice two hours earlier we could have avoided four hours of senseless driving.

4) This winter, we made a morale-crushing hike to the lean-to during a cold weekend that was only getting colder. One party member fell through some ice and soaked a foot. The usual water-spot near the lean-to was frozen solid. Eventually we hiked back to the hole in the ice that had gotten our foot wet and after treating the water it tasted like dead fish. It was below zero, and the forecast claimed that the temperatures would continue to drop roughly a degree every hour for the entire duration of our trip. Each of us was coddling one old injury or another, not wanting worsen our respective conditions. After a miserable cold evening we overslept in our cozy sleeping bags. In the morning we made the difficult decision to bail out and return another day.

Pre-hike

H picked up a big sandwich grabbed some dinner before arriving at my house. He offered me half of the sandwich, and I happily agreed. I tucked him in with the first installment of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring and went to bed. After a blink of an eye, the alarm clock went off at 4:10am. I packed a few last items including my sandwich half while H showered. We had breakfast, coffee, and hit the road. On the way we grabbed more coffee at Stewart's. At JQE's, H says, "Oh, no! We forgot the sandwiches". I said, "I remembered mine." Uncomfortable moment. We packed up the car, went to Stewart's again for a fresh sandwich for H, and then were finally were on our North way.

Along the way, JQE says he told his wife she would hear from us by midnight. H says he told his 11:00pm. Over the course of the next 15 hours, we will discover that we are able to complete the peaks, but not within curfew.

We park the truck at the Santanoni trail-head. The parking lot is a muddy mess, which feels like a sign of foreboding for the mud-prone trail ahead. AL drives around in a few circles, searching for a dry spot to park the truck. We gear up, making our final decisions on what to bring and what to leave behind. Me, I'm wearing a wool sweater with light shorts and sneakers. H is ready to move in his zookeeper outfit and headphones. JQE is sporting brightly colored techwick. AL is wearing his scowl, a last remnant of a horrible flu that he has only barely recovered from. If you think he looks sad now, you just wait. Soon he will discover the two liters of Gatorade he put in his Camelback has been steadily making a sticky trail from the kitchen to the back of his truck, into his backpack, through the woods, and is soon to be completely empty leaving him thirsty and sticky-trucked.

The trail ahead is divided up into six dissimilar stages.

Stage 1: The Dirt Road

We are surrounded by an air of single-mindedness that we have not felt on any of our previous trips as we begin to hike down the first section of the trail. The Santanoni Range has wrung us dry through repeated failed attempts and the only way to penetrate the intimidation that we all silently feel will be through sheer determination. We march along an easy dirt road, our contemplation unable to grasp the trip in all of it's parts at once. Considered as a whole, the journey is impossible so instead the focus remains on the current footfall, followed by the next. The long, slow, wet-footed miles through mud, snow, and ice, the precariousness, intimidation, and minor setbacks cannot stand in our way as long as we continue to put one foot in front of the other. Thirty-five minutes into our hike along the road, we arrive at an arrow sign pointing into the woods.

Stage 2: Trail to Bradley Pond

The hike to Bradley Pond has always been a demoralizing affair. On each previous hike, we approached this area expecting it to be easy, but each time several unexpected factors make for a much longer hike than expected. Those factors have included heavy winter backpacks, breaking trail through deep snow, and a punishing elevation change. This time our packs are light and we are expecting the worst. The trail is basically a stream bed partially full of melting snow, so we end up with wet feet after repeated plunging missteps through the weakening snowpack. However, for once our fears are worse than the reality, and we make good time. We arrive at a marshy area that marks the turnoff for the herdpath to Times Square, the intersection between the unmarked trails to each of the three mountains. Ice still covers a shallow pond, and I start walking toward the visible trail on the other side. However, the ice is weak, and my feet break through. It doesn't take more than a few seconds for the snowmelt to chill my feet, but it's no big deal, I was planning to change into wool socks and boots anyway (and pants), just as soon as we get past this predictably wet area. We find an alternative route over the marsh across a small beaver dam that leads us to the start of the next level of difficulty.

Stage 3: Herdpath to Times Square

The next goal is to reach Times Square, a pathetic trail intersection that only sarcastically lives up to it's name. The trail towards Times Square is poorly marked, except by a spine of ice left behind by a winter's worth of previous hikers all repeating the same route. The path regularly oscillates between dry dirt and deep snow, making for a catch-22 in which neither snowshoes nor bareboots are appropriate. The melting ice spine is on the verge of collapse, making every step a carefully planned endeavour. We must break a separate trail any time the ice spine precariously crumbles while trying to walk over flowing water. After gathering water at what might be our last opportunity, AL spends a few extra minutes getting ready while the three of us march on. Before long we hear untragic cries of, "Help! Help!" from below. The sound of a grown man, a friend, calling for help is such an unusual thing to hear. Unaware of what trouble he has gotten himself into, there is a moment while hustling to help when an unworldly feeling arises: a 50/50 mixture between mourning a terrible loss and laughing at a silly situation. AL had fallen through the snow into a very deep hole. H ran over and gave him a solid anchor from which he was able to pull himself out, and a bit of laughter soon ensued. "Get back in there we forgot to take a picture".

We continue up the steep trail, and soon reach a four-corners intersection. We take the most obvious one clearly marked by a crumpled glove. The walk quickly turns treacherous. I am staring at the ground watching my step, my forward vision blocked by the brim of my baseball cap, when a gnarled branch from a weathered tree stabs me right in the face, hard. I cry out, and everyone gathers around. I hear the murmering words "blood", "purple stuff", and "stick might still be lodged in there" from the people around me. All I have to say is, "I'm fine". I don't touch that side of my face again for another twelve hours when I am back home in my bathroom. I figure anything I touch it with is going to make it dirtier not cleaner so I just let it be. We continue along, and the path takes us to a small outcropping from which Panther Peak is visible. We had assumed that this was Times Square on a previous trip which caused us no end of trouble seeking trails that never existed. After a quick look, we were not going to make the same mistake again. With not much snow on the ground, it was clear that this was simply a place to catch a pleasant view otherwise useful only for confounding unsuspecting hikers from finding the all-important Times Square. We returned to the intersection, and someone noticed markings on the trees pointing out the directions to each of the three peaks. At this point as AL put it, it was like a scene in Indiana Jones where he solves the riddle that reveals the entrance to some golden city. For the first time we hold the keys and the three doors stand before us. We just need to walk.

Stage 4: Couchsachraga Peak

Near the main intersection is a small fork in the road with Santanoni heading left and Couchsachraga right. Over the course of five trips to this area, this is the third location I have personally identified as Times Square, each time realizing that I was previously wrong, but this time I'm more confident than ever that this is the place. According to ancient internet lore Couchsachraga is a Native American word meaning, "Dismal Wilderness". Wikipedia says, "There is no marked trail to the summit, which, being fully forested, has no views." It is the longest hike of the three peaks we hope to achieve, so we decide to tackle this one first to get it out of the way. We can see it off in the distance. It is significantly lower in elevation than Times Square, so we are actually descending to reach this peak. In fact, this is the lowest of the 46 official High Peaks. The High Peaks are the 46 mountains higher than 4000' according to inaccurate measurements taken a long time ago, and this one is lower than 4000' so technically it should never have been included in the list. All of these factors makes the round-trip hike to Couchsachraga long and anticlimactic. We are all happy to have this one behind us with a few photos to remember it by, and even more happy to have completed our first mountain in the Santanoni Range after spending so many days in the general vicinity.

Stage 5: Santanoni Peak

I had a rough time with some icy sections on Couchi, so when we return to Times Square, I strap on crampons. Next we are to tackle Santanoni, the tallest of the three peaks. The trail from here to Santanoni is roughly one mile each way. At this point I find myself in a strange mood. I need to be away from people for a bit. My first wind is running out, and we have an unfathomable distance still to hike. I have grown impatient with stop-and-go travelling. In a group of four people, someone is always needing to pause to change something: warmer clothes, cooler clothes, snowshoes on, snowshoes off, moleskinning blistered feet, or rifling through backpacks to find something. Without saying a word and wearing nothing on my chest but a t-shirt, I take a big swig of water and abandon my backpack with all my warm clothes, water, and food, and take off down the path which winds every which-way but is unusually recognizable. A minute after I start marching, I feel guilty and foolish. Guilty for taking off without saying anything, I am usually a strong proponent of the "stick together" mentality. Foolish for not at least bringing a bit of water and a warm shirt to a high peak a few days after winter's end. However, once I start, there is no stopping me. The trail is a very tall ice spine not much wider than my boot often with steep drops on either side so every occasional misstep means falling into a deep bramble pit. This is my first time using crampons which prove to be amazing for these conditions. With each footstep my foot feels locked to the ice spine. I reach the Santanoni Peak in 40 minutes and head back down. I'm fine at the moment, but it's chilly up here, and I'm going to get cold if I stick around for too long. Before long I see the rest of the crew. Perhaps we are all sharing an impatient mood. We're making amazing time and nobody is prepared for anything: no water or food, but at least they brought some warm clothes. The fact that everyone made the same choice makes me feel less guilty, yet no less foolish. We summit and take a few group pictures.

Alone while waiting for everyone to regroup near Times Square, I hear voices approaching from the wrong direction. It is roughly 6:15pm. Two unfamiliar heads appear above me atop a small rock face. "Wow, I'm suprised to see people right now". "Same here". The couple is staying at the lean-to tonight, and first decided to hike one of the peaks. Bare-kneed, one of them appears to be wearing boxer shorts for pants. I am in no position to judge with a thick column of blood dried to my face and having recently completed a series scold-worthy choices myself.

Stage 6: Panther Peak

We regroup and race up Panther Peak, which is only a fraction of a mile each way. It turns out to be shorter than we expected, something like twelve minutes up and ten minutes down and five minutes to celebrate the completion of the Santanonis. Finally.

Exit

It is after 7:00pm. It will be dark before long. Our 11:00 curfew is approaching, and we are all too physically fatigued to even think about calculating how long it will take to repeat the next four stages in reverse. Not that there is anything we can do about it now. Our only job is to get back to the car and not get hurt in the process. Everyone is pretty quiet as we descend the mountain. H and I get a bit ahead of the others. The trail is perfectly laid out before us until we get to a spot just before Bradley Pond. We poke and prod a few different directions sniffing out the trail. We climb and hop down a small cliff believing it to be the trail, but it is not. After climbing back up, we try another direction, but it is no good. Finally we find the right trail. We decide to sit down and wait for the others. We don't want them making the same mistake we did, or worse, heading the wrong way although we are not mature enough to do it without involving a certain amount of mischief. We shut off our headlamps and sit in silence. Before long we can hear AL and JQE in the maze asking all the same questions we did. "Do you see the trail?" "It looks like it goes this way". "No this can't be it". H and I giggle childishly in the dark. One of them eventually starts walking our way, then both of them do. AL notices us, but is too tired to successfully explain our presence to JQE's tired ears. H tries to startle them with a loud screech from his emergency whistle. Everyone laughs in appreciation of our funny joke (false). We return to the main trail, and make a long but speedy march back to the car.

Ride Home

We have not technically reached our curfew of 11:00, but it is 10:45 before we start driving. We are not within range of any cell phone towers, and the wives are probably already worried, and soon to be very worried. As much as we'd like to go go go and get to a coverage-zone, we had to pull over multiple times on account of the nauseuos stomachs of everyone in the wiped-out crew. Finally, we reached coverage, and let everyone know that we are safe. Next stop, McDonald's, followed by JQE's, and then my house. Showers, beds, and sweet sweet dreams. For once and for all, we can rest in peace knowing that this unresolved conflict can no longer trap our spirits forever to haunt the Dismal Wilderness.

Related Links

* Someone else's tough Santanoni trip report

Cohoes Wave

The Cohoes Wave just off of Fulton Street in Waterford, NY is a well-known spot for kayaking, because the ruins of man-made features create large standing waves. A standing wave occurs when the underlying structure of the riverbed causes water to quickly rush downstream, leaving a void into which an influx of water is actually rolling back upstream on top of the downstream rush of water. The wave remains stationary, but is otherwise not unlike an ocean wave at the beach. Surfers have long sought places in the world where standing waves form.

I drove down before work and took a look at it. The gauge height according the the USGS conditions report was at 12.25'.

The water seems rough and scary looking, and is probably out of my league (at least on a day like today). 1000' after the wave, a large dam drops off, so one needs to be very careful in a place like this, like maybe by refraining from kayaking here. The following satellite photos show the Cohoes Wave. The image on the right is zoomed out to include the dam after the wave. Click on the images to view an interactive version.

To add to the other dangers, the water itself is some of the more polluted water in the area, so it's really not the first place I would go intentionally dunking my head on a warm summer day.

Videos

A video does a better job of capturing the turbulence in the water than a photograph does. The wave is on the right side. You can see the water rolling backwards upstream, forming the standing wave:

Related Links

* Photos, Video, and Comments about Kayaking the Cohoes Wave from americanwhitewater.org
* Several online discussions about the Cohoes Wave
* Pictures of Kayaking the Cohoes Wave from RPI's Outing Club
* Current USGS Statistics for the area
* Youtube video of surfers on a standing wave in Hawaii

Allen Mountain

The plan was in place. Allen Mountain. Hike 6.5 miles to the base, pitch a tent, eat, and get a good night's rest. Wake up, hike 1.5 miles to the top, hike back down, carry packs back to the car. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday Night

T arrives at my house. We fall asleep during the first half of the 3rd installment of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Return of the King, the 4-hour+ extended version.

Monday

Woke up. As if I weren't naturally excitable and unstable enough already, we french pressed a strong coffee brew and drank it down with some muesli. We packed up the car, bought batteries, Clif bars, pipe tobacco and Clint Eastwood cigarillos, and headed North. We stopped at Oscar's Smokehouse on the way and had them band saw a few salted & smoked pork chops for us, and bag it with some beef sticks and chocolate-covered bacon. Trail mix.

Arriving at MacIntyre's Furnace, we hit the trail from the parking lot trailhead at 11:00am. The bridge over the Mighty Hudson was out, and looked like it had been for a long time. We had to ford the river by snowshoe rock-hopping. Next, we made the precarious walk over Lake Jimmy. Someone had reportedly fallen through the ice here recently, but that could never happen to us because we are all hepped up on coffee. After we cross the lake, we noticed there was an alternative route that went a short way around the lake. Whoops we should have taken that. We hike past some old buildings, and past Lake Sally. While we hike, I am taking careful note of our exact location at all times. We don't have the luxury of a GPS, and I am worried that the trail will not be well-marked, not to mention that there will be some turn-offs along the way. As it turns out, the trail was well broken, and it was a simple lemming walk all the way to the top of Allen (actually we didn't quite make it to the top, stay tuned to learn why). During the next section, I got confused as to our exact whereabouts along the trail, but we just kept walking and soon enough we reached the turnoff towards Allen. As we hike, I realize that we might have a fullish moon tonight. My coffee mind starts churning. The sky is perfectly clear, and the weather forecast says that it's only going to get nicer as time goes by. The hike from our campsite to the peak is a mere 1.5 miles. How awesome would it be to stand on the top of a high peak in the wee hours of the night with a full moon lighting our way? Pretty awesome. "However", I tell myself, "this is supposed to be a mild and pleasant introduction to winter camping for T-Bone. Promise yourself. Do NOT bring it up, just stick with the original plan". We walked on flat terrain for a while, up a hill, down a hill.

During a break, I turn to T and say offhandedly, "Say, I think it's supposed to be a full moon tonight. The sky is perfectly clear. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?". (Technically, I didn't actually suggest anything, you see how I'm getting around my original promise to myself?) T replies, "uhhhmmmm... Teen Wolf"? He has no idea what I'm plotting, and I promised not to bring it up so I don't say another word.

We continue hiking and cross two streambeds. I had read online that "most overnighters camp just after the Skylight Brook crossing". Right after the crossing, we find a nice little clearing, just like the internet said. The clearing breaks all the rules - too close to the trail, too close to the water, but whatever, it sure beats trying to camp in the freaking mountainous forest. We diligently stamp down the entire area with our snowshoes, pitch the tent, and collect firewood. We happen to be staying directly on the border of the Wilderness Boundary (in which campfires are prohibited), so I figure it's like tennis. As long as the ball lands on the line, it lands in our favor. Campfire it is. We boil up a bunch of water and cook cous cous with a flavored tuna packet for dinner. The fire gradually melts its way into the snow until it's in a 4 foot hole and is basically smothered because it can't get any air. T is getting very cold (and frankly hasn't put on any warm clothes). If you have ever been camping with T, you know that he takes his fires very seriously, so he sets to work digging out the entire area (!!!) by kicking the snow away.

After an hour or so of arduous labor, T is revved up, toasty warm, and ready for action, and we have a veritable resort carved into the ground replete with 360 degree snow benches wrapped all the way around the icy fire pit. The full moon rests atop Allen Mountain, shining bright like a big sign that reads, "this way!". I mention the possibility of hiking Allen tonight, and T says, "let's do it!".

We pack up our stuff: extra lights, extra batteries, food, water, map, compass, warm clothes, matches, etc. T moleskins his heels to protect them from developing blisters. Yodelayheehoo up the steep hill, following the Allen Brook. We are moving quickly along the obvious trail, when suddenly a startled pheasant sitting quietly in the snow next to the trail gets scared half to death by our presence and cacophonously flaps past my head and away down the mountainside. I let out a loud shriek, and take a giant leap backwards. Later, on our way back down, we repeat the encounter with the very same bird, shriek and all.

I mention to T that I read a trip report where someone described the Allen slide as the longest 1/2 mile ever. T says, "what is that supposed to mean? This isn't so bad". I just tell him I'm not sure. Usually words like these lead you to their meaning eventually. We reach the slide. It's a bitch. It couldn't possibly be any steeper. In fact, it's too steep to stop and take a comfortable rest, and there are absolutely no handholds for 50 yards at a time. The temperature has dropped significantly, and the chill wind is blowing our way. The snowshoe path is perfectly packed down and smooth. The last group to travel the path descended via butt slide, leaving behind the bottom half of a long snow pipe. It was impossible to get any traction on this curiously smooth surface, so we really struggled our way up the hill. At times it was easier avoid the path altogether, and instead break trail alongside it. In the distance up the hill, I could see a lone tree. I used various tricks to slowly and patiently work my way up the mountain one slow step at a time, easily taking 3 failed steps for every successful one. I arrive at the tree, take a seat and check the time. It's midnight. I soak in the absolutely gargantuan view of the world. A pale glow traces the horizon line. The bright stars and full moon overhead illuminate the snow-covered mountainous landscape in it's glorious entirety.

Down below, T is having a rough time of the slide. His sweater is covered in snow, he is not making significant progress with each step. "What the &@#$?! This is &@#$'ing stupid! This is &@#$'ing ridiculous! Why do they allow the trail to be this way? They shouldn't let people butt slide down the trail! I can't get any traction! I can't make it up there". He was clearly at his absolute limit, and really frustrated. I mistakenly assume that he is hotter than hell and sweating profusely, one of the last in a long series of my mischaracterizations of T's situation. He eventually joins me at the Great White Tree. The moonlight reflecting off his face looks hideously colorless. He says, "Stookey I am FREEZING". Freezing?! Jesus, something is not right at all. He says we should go back, and I wholeheartedly agree. We gotta get back to the car ASAP. Unfortunately, from where we stand in our current state, "as soon as possible" is 16 hours. T is cold and talking irrationally. He mentions that he's stumbling a lot and slurring words a bit. He is definitely in the early stages of hypothermia, and we have a decent hike back to camp, not to mention a long cold night ahead of us. We butt slide down a lot of the hill more carefully than usual, and quickly T's spirits are back up. He's doing alright, and we make it back to camp. We stoke up a nice fire and sit around for a while drinking warm liquids before heading to bed. T gets the warm sleeping bag tonight.

Tuesday

T and I shiver our way to morning. We get up, make a fire, and spend 2 hours getting ready and packing up. Man, every little task while winter camping takes forever. We make quick work (4 hours or so) of the 6.5 mile trek back to the car. I started struggling at one point along the way. T kindly transfers some of the stuff in my pack to his, after which the hike was much better. The sun on our faces feels great. The views of the looming mountains are mood-lifting from deep in the valley. This could have been a great day to hike Allen if we didn't screw it up by playing invincible the night before. I am ashamed of myself for my failure to reel in my risky impulses. Luck was on our side last night - we were merely grazed by serious trouble.

The Ride Home

Starving and delirious on the drive home, we stopped at a zero-star restaurant in a small town along the Northway. The town, incidentally, has an exit from 87 but no on-ramp for reentry. You can visit, but you can never leave. We enter the restaurant and walk past the obnoxious toothless bearded local clientel, loudly expressing their unwelcome for tourist hikers like us. We take a seat next to the gas fireplace and study the mispelled menu. The best thing on it is frozen patty burgers. This could be our first major crisis of the trip: a potentially unsatisfactory dinner threatens to spoil an otherwise perfect couple of days.

We agreed to order a small bit of chili so as not to be rude and tide us over until we reach Saratoga for an actual meal. The look on the waitress' face revealed that we did not fool her. She could tell we were starving, yet we were not really eating. We finished our snack, and drove into Saratoga. After politely u-turning out of a sportcoats-only type of establishment, we hit up the Circus Cafe. These were seriously the best burgers ever. For a beer choice, I highly recommend the Circus Boy (Magic Hat Hefeweizen), but be sure to ask for a tall Hefeweizen glass.

Home At Last

We arrive at my house and finish watching Return of the King, all too happy to be in my house next to the remote control-operated fireplace watching a pair of foolhardy Hobbits in their deadly struggle up Mount Doom. Barefoot? Up a mountain dripping with lava? Seriously? Talk about two unprepared idiots!

Related Links

* Frodo and Sam Mount Doom Costumes
* "The salted pork is particularly good".

XC Skied Vischer Ferry

This morning I cross-country skied at the Vischer Ferry Preserve in Clifton Park. It is a very friendly place to ski, with lots of long, straight trails, perfectly flat as it shoulders the Mohawk River. We had our first real snowfall of the season (in March!) so I just had to make a token effort to get out at least once. It was a beautiful winter morning.

(8)

I wandered down a dead-end trail or two.

(1)

While skiing along a main trail, a group of deer tracks crossed my path. Deciding to follow them, I wasn't sure which direction to go. I paused and took a long look at them, noticing that I could probably head in the direction that the two toes pointed. I followed the tracks into the woods. The tracks meandered over logs and under brush, and eventually sniffed around a swampy water's edge, seemingly searching for something.

(2)

My first thought was that they must be seeking drinking water. In fact, it looks like they were searching for a convenient place to cross over to the other side of the swamp.

(3)

After following the tracks a while longer, I came to place where the deer successfully forded a major section of swamp. Not the nicest place to ski, but screw it. I've skied worse. Actually, that is a lie. This is the ugliest 10 feet of skiing I have ever done.

(4)

After the mucky ford, I knew I was headed in the right direction. The approaching tracks were clean, the departing tracks were covered in mud. I am getting closer.

(5)

Before long, fleeing deer appeared on all sides of my vision's periphery, leaving me no chance to fumble my camera into action. I made chase. It was easy to distinguish the new frantic tracks from the old moseying ones. The new tracks kicked up mud with footholes at steep angles as the deer banked left and right, leaving leaping gaps of 10 feet or more between groups of footfalls.

(6)

I followed tracks in every direction, criss-crossing back and forth over all kinds of tracks including my own.

(7)

I crossed over my own path one too many times and gave up, letting the deer enjoy their victorious escape. Amazingly, I picked a direction and headed straight, and before long magically found the spot where I had originally diverted from the main path. I returned to the car and called it a morning.

Related Links

* Tracking deer